Have I bought a stolen smartphone?
Used smartphones at flea markets and on small-ads platforms can be very tempting. But you always run the slight risk of buying the proverbial pig in a poke, not least because the smartphone may simply be defective. That said, the topic of theft is one that you should definitely also consider. Alarm bells should be ringing particularly if the person is a private seller and can’t or won’t provide any paperwork. However, there’s also a certain amount of risk involved when buying from commercial sellers.
What you need to watch out for when buying
The obvious first: The price. If a flagship smartphone currently retails for over €1,000, a small-ad with one costing €300 is likely to be either a fake, defective, or stolen. Chinese importers, in particular, are always offering deceptively real-looking variants of Apple’s and Samsung’s latest devices. As soon as you hold this sort of device in your hands, you know that while it looks great on the outside, it’s anything but on the inside. They only look like the original – either that or best case they fall far short of expectations or worst case they may even be loaded with malware.
The second important point is paperwork. Every good, honest seller usually includes the packaging, the charging cable, and, if requested, a receipt along with the device if it isn’t an ancient one. If something’s missing, those alarm bells should start ringing again. And don’t fall for that old excuse that “it was a gift”.
If possible, the best thing to do is to meet with the seller and test the device before buying it. If it works fine and accepts your SIM card, the risk of making a bad buy is at least minimized.
The IMEI number
Every smartphone and tablet has its own ID number, the IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity), which allows the device to be identified. Should the device ever get stolen, you should report the IMEI number to the police. If the device is then seized or found, its IMEI number is compared against those that have been reported. That said, there’s no database that enables buyers to check IMEIs. Despite that, when you buy a device you should ensure that the IMEI is also supplied. With many smartphones, manufacturers now allow you to report the device as stolen and wipe everything on it remotely. If someone then tries to use it, the system compares the IMEI number and can disable the device completely. This bricks the smartphone, making it just about as valuable as a brick as it can no longer be used.
The legal consequences of buying a stolen smartphone
If you knowingly buy a stolen smartphone, you are liable to be prosecuted for receiving stolen goods – and under certain circumstances, this could lead to hefty fines.
Even those who buy one unknowingly may well suffer consequences. You may find the police suddenly turning up at your front door and seizing the smartphone. If you purchased via a reputable retailer such as Gazelle or momox, you’re in luck as it’s easy to prove that as a buyer you, of course, assumed that the goods were legit. Such companies are usually also accommodating when it comes to refunding the purchase price.
This all stands in stark contrast to private sellers. If you establish that a device has been stolen and then sold on, while you can cancel the purchase, getting any money back that you’ve paid can be somewhat difficult. The sellers of such goods are usually long gone when you try to track them down and no longer contactable without going to extreme lengths.
It gets even more problematic if you unknowingly bought a stolen device and then try to resell it. In doing so, you’re the one committing the offense. Producing evidence that you weren’t aware that the device was stolen is much more difficult and this duty falls upon you. Of course, the buyer will want his/her money back. And on top of this, you’ll have to deal with any legal fees. Suddenly you’re faced with all these demands – and the only way to avert this is if you are able to prove that you bought the device yourself. When making an online purchase, make absolutely sure that you save everything of importance such as invoices, messages, and emails. When making a cash purchase, take a photo of the seller’s ID and have the seller sign a receipt of payment. This can all be really handy as evidence should the worst happen.
When buying a smartphone it’s well worth going into the process with both eyes wide open, and it’s best not to pounce on a bargain if the little things don’t add up – no matter how good the offer may seem. Often there is a valid reason for the low price, and not “just” because it has a defect.
Whenever you buy a smartphone, always ask yourself:
- Is the price right in relation to the device, its condition, and its original price?
- Does it come with all the paperwork such as a receipt, manual, and packaging?
- Does it include accessories such as the original charging cable?
- Does the buyer only want to pay in cash, and do they refuse to identify themselves and acknowledge receipt?
Follow these simple rules and you’ll minimize the risk of buying a stolen smartphone considerably.